by, Jul 27, 2012
Get Big, Not Fat – How to Gain Weight the Right Way
Do you remember watching Rocky guzzle raw eggs before he trained in the morning? After that scene, every kid who wanted to put on some mass went straight to the fridge and started cracking eggs. Well, “Rocky” was 35 years ago and luckily for you sports nutrition supplements have come a long way since then.
First, let’s clarify: you want to gain muscle, not fat. It’s easier to gain fat because all you have to do is take in more calories than you expend. Muscle growth, on the other hand, takes a little more effort on your part.
The right way to gain weight is through a combination of diet and exercise. You will spend a lot of time strength training so you can steadily put on muscle. Your goal should be to gain about two pounds per month if you’re a beginner and one pound a month if you’re an intermediate. Doing so will be more sustainable and help to ensure that you’re putting on muscle as opposed to fat.
NOTE: After a couple months if you still can’t gain weight no matter what you try, you may want to talk to your physician—there could be a medical reason for your difficulties. For most people trying to gain weight, however, the following tips should be just what you need to pack on the pounds!
What Should You Be Eating to Gain Weight?
The key to gaining weight without adding fat is to simply eat more of the healthy foods you are already eating. You don’t need to binge but rather can make simple swaps to choose more calorie dense foods.
Your diet will consist of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Each of these plays a vital role in muscle building and must not be ignored. As you plan your meals, consider the following macronutrient guidelines.
The amount of protein you need to build muscle is a controversial topic. There are generally three guidelines given—and each is considerably different.
- 150 grams daily
- 1 gram/pound of body weight
- 30/50/20—protein is always 30% of your daily calories
Protein intake following each of these guidelines ranges significantly. Many experts agree that the easiest way to determine protein intake is to eat 30 to 40 grams of protein every 3 hours. This would put your protein intake at a range between 160 grams and 220 grams which is adequate for muscle growth.
Although fats have gotten a bad rap they are essential for proper muscle growth and development. Healthy fats should make up about 20-30% of your daily calories. Since they are more calorie dense at 9 calories per gram (compared to 4 calories per gram for both carbohydrates and proteins) fats can quickly help you to reach your daily calorie goals.
When you are building muscle, carbohydrates must be included in your diet. If you neglect to eat carbs your body may turn to muscle for energy which defeats the purpose of training! Focus on consuming healthy carbs such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains so you give your body the fuel it needs for your intense training sessions. To determine how many carbs you need follow these simple instructions:
- Determine the number of calories you need to eat each day to build muscle
- Decide on the optimal amount of protein, since this is in grams, convert to calories by multiplying by 4 (ex: 200 grams of protein = 800 calories)
- Plan to eat between 20% and 30% of your calories from healthy fat sources, if you are eating 3500 calories and choose to consume 25% of those calories as fat you end up with 875 calories (or 97 grams) that should come from fat
- Now subtract both the fat and protein calories from your daily calorie goal to determine how many carbohydrate calories you need each day, in this case 1825 calories or 456 grams should be from carbs
How Much Should You Eat?
When you’re trying to gain weight, increasing your daily calorie consumption is the first step. Unfortunately, many people either don’t increase calorie consumption correctly (and thus end up gaining fat) or they don’t increase consumption adequately so they can’t put on muscle. In fact, one of the biggest reasons people don’t gain muscle is because they are eating too little.
As you plan your diet, you need to decide how much to eat. Keep track of your calories for a week to determine how many you can eat to maintain your current weight. You can also use a BMR calculator to get an idea of this.
Once you have determined the base calories you need, add 300 calories to that number if you are at an average weight and are looking to bulk up. If you have a difficult time gaining weight, consider adding at least 500 calories to start with.
These are just guidelines to get you started. You may need to add even more calories in order to notice a change. If you are not gaining weight after a month add another 300 or 500 calories a day and monitor your weight.
Another way to calculate your calorie needs is to eat 20 calories per pound of body weight. So if you weigh 175 you should aim to eat about 3500 calories per day.
You should plan to eat every three hours or so when you’re trying to gain weight.
Exercise for Massive Gains
If you’re just looking to gain weight and you don’t care whether that’s fat or muscle, exercise isn’t all that important. In fact, why don’t you grab a double cheeseburger, a giant order of fries, and a huge milkshake and go sit on the couch watching the bodybuilding competitions on TV.
Wait? You want to gain muscle and be in the bodybuilding competitions? Well, in that case, exercise is of paramount importance.
To gain muscle you will need to work extremely hard in the gym and there’s no way around that. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that every minute spent sweating it out is worthwhile.
Focus primarily on strength building exercises. As long as you’re working hard and being persistent almost any weight program can help you gain muscle and thus weight.
Compound exercises are often the most effective exercises when you’re looking to build muscle. They involve the movement of two joints and more than one muscle group. Isolation exercises have their place but only involve one joint and one muscle group.
Make sure the program you choose targets all your major muscle groups. Even if you’re trying to build an impressive upper body, don’t neglect your legs. You wouldn’t want to look like you have chicken legs!
Another reason it’s important not to neglect any body parts is because your body prefers to grow together. In other words, training your legs may actually help to improve the appearance of your upper body.
A lot of times cardiovascular exercise is avoided on weight gain programs. Cardio does cause you to burn a lot of calories but is still an important component of fitness. Try to fit in a couple cardio sessions throughout the week to improve your cardiovascular fitness—just add a few hundred extra calories on the days you perform cardio.
Supplements Can Help
Adding supplements to your weight gain program can help you to achieve the results you want more quickly. Some supplements can also make it easier for you to reach your daily calorie goals.
- Whey: if you are looking to build muscle whey protein is your ideal choice because it’s easy to ingest, low in fat, and gets you high quality usable protein fast, it’s most effective after your workout or first thing in the morning
- Casein: this slow digesting protein is perfect to use before bed or when you don’t need protein available immediately
- Creatine: helps to increase the energy source muscles use so you can work out harder and longer to build muscle quickly
- Glutamine: this amino acid improves recovery time so you can get back to working out more quickly, it’s also the most abundant amino acid in muscle tissue and can help to prevent your muscle from wasting away
- Nitric Oxide: helps the body to communicate more efficiently, also increases blood flow and assists the body in delivering more nutrients to muscles
- BCAAs and Amino Acids: help the body to repair, grow, and develop muscle tissue
- Multivitamins: when you’re building muscle you need more nutrients than the average person so be sure to take a good multivitamin that will improve your health and provide all the nutrients you need
Track Your Progress
What’s the point of building muscle if you can’t see the progress you’ve made?! Weigh yourself weekly and track your strength gains to see how far you’ve come. And don’t forget to take pictures. Not only will you be able to see your new muscle bulging, but you’ll also be able to tell if you need to cut back on your calorie intake a bit if you start to see a pudgy middle.
With a little (or a lot!) of effort and hard work you can be on your way to building muscle and gaining sustainable weight. So don’t let yourself settle for the easy path and get fat—instead, focus on eating right, workout out consistently, and using the right supplements so you can show off your big muscles!